Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Stephenville

By Chet Garner 9.8.22

You probably wouldn’t be surprised that the “Cowboy Capital of the World” is in Texas. You may be surprised that there are multiple Texan towns that lay claim to this prestigious title, most notably Bandera and Stephenville. While it’s officially unsettled as to who is the rightful champ between the two, Stephenville makes a pretty good case for it. From the hatter shop to the outdoor trails, Stephenville is a cowboy paradise.

The Case for ‘Cowboy Capital of the World’

Stephenville has produced more rodeo cowboys than any other town in Texas, maybe even the world. It’s such an important part of the town’s history that, just off the Erath County Courthouse square, they’ve got the Cowboy Walk of Fame. Here, you’ll find a whole list of these famous cowboys immortalized on the ground (like Hollywood, but way more Texan). If you’re active in the rodeo world, you’ll geek out over the names on that list.

If you want to talk to some pro cowboys yourself, go to Chick Elms Grand Entry Western Store and Rodeo Shop. Like everything else in town, Chick Elms is the real thing. They sell all kinds of cowboy gear for ranchers and riders alike, from boots to tack. The same goes for Capital Hatters, the top stop for getting legit cowboy hats. They make them custom order, so even if you’re not in the market for a new hat, it’s worth stopping by to watch the pros craft and shape hats.

Of course, you can’t leave Stephenville without seeing some real deal cowboys in action. Head to Lone Star Arena, the dirt-floor arena in town that’s always bustling with horses, cattle, cowboys, and cowgirls. The Stephenville PRCA Rodeo is the big annual event, but pretty much any weekend (and lots of weekdays) they’ve got things such as barrel racing, team roping, dressage, and more.

Oh, there’s another famous cowboy who lives in town: Whiplash, the cowboy monkey. You can catch him riding his border collie, Boogie, during regular appearances at Lone Star Arena or just around town. He’s awesome if you can catch one of his shows.

Stephenville To-Do List

Folks looking to get outdoors during their daytrip should check out the Bosque River Trail. It’s about 1.5 miles long and follows the Bosque River down through the river corridor until it flows into the Brazos. It’s paved so you can bring a bike, you can hike, or you can jog along the river. It’s a great trail.

Another cool spot for outdoor adventures is the Great American Lone Star Ranch. It’s a family-run agrotourism spot that’s a great afternoon outing for kids and adults alike. There’s a petting zoo, cooking classes, and a huge “backyard” filled with ponies, chickens, llamas, goats, and miniature zebu cows. It’s an absolute blast for pint-sized daytrippers.

History buffs like me will really dig the Stephenville Historical House Museum. It’s a museum, but it’s really more like a park full of historical houses, antique churches, and old cabins. You can tour John Tarleton’s (of the nearby Tarleton State University) ranch house.

Cowboy Grub

Bring a big appetite to Stephenville because you can’t skip out on these eats. The first must is Jake and Dorothy’s Cafe. They have been serving one of the most iconic chicken-fried steaks in Texas since 1948 and are known for serving gravy on the bottom to keep the chicken-fried steak from getting soggy. The burgers here are phenomenal too, but their other house specialty is waffle fries. Way back when, Jake himself handcrafted a special waffle maker to make those fries and they still serve them today. So, did he invent the waffle fry? It’s quite possible.

On my PBS show, I do a recap of the best things I’ve eaten every year. For the last two years running, the best pizza I’ve had in Texas comes from Caam’s. The restaurant is in an old bus station and serves up some crazy hand-tossed, thin-crust pizzas. One of my favorites has Brussels sprouts and honey Sriracha. You name it, Caam’s has got it in spades. The creativity in the kitchen here is off the charts.

The last restaurant you’ve gotta try is Newton’s Saddlerack. If you’re a fan of Food Network shows and Gordon Ramsay, you may already be familiar with Cowboy Chef Newton and his steak-searing prowess. After touring the country on TV, it came time to start his own joint, and he picked the Erath County square in downtown Stephenville as home. Newton is a man who has perfected cooking red meat — I had a tenderloin steak that was so good that I could have eaten with a spoon. It’s a higher-end restaurant, but Newton is often out front with a prime rib in his smoker. So, if you don’t have a dinner reservation, you can at least pass by for free smells.

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